Written by Wendy Bray
This post first appeared in All Saints, Clifton News 2020, used with permission of the author.
This morning I planted my tulip bulbs. I lovingly pushed them deep into the compost in three layers in enormous pots. Covered as they are with a layer of gravel for drainage on top, it’s hard to believe that when Spring comes we will see the first green shoots push through towards the light after a winter of the roots establishing themselves in the darkness. Those pots, sitting silently outside our window, are a universal sign of hope as the winter months beckon.
Surely hope is something we all need to know at the moment.
Hope is something that is not easy to define, however. It’s a word whose rich meaning has been somewhat diluted through general use. We “hope” it isn’t going to rain or that we won’t miss the train. We “hope for the best” and even “ hope beyond hope”! I recently spotted some skin cream called “Hope in a Jar.” Whether purchasing it and lathering it on every morning is what is meant by “hope beyond hope” is anybody’s guess!
For most of us though, hope involves looking forward with- even the tiniest glimmer of-optimism; looking beyond the known of now to something as yet unknown and choosing to have faith in future circumstances that we can’t determine or imagine. Yet hope has the potential to be more solid than we might think, more supportive, more long-lasting.
Hope is like a sofa: it needs good upholstery. We want to sit comfortably in hope: it needs to hold us on days when all we want to do is flop into it’s comforting folds for refuge as well as offer the strength to keep us upright on those days when we need to sit up and take notice. Hope, if we understand it in the right way, offers structure as well as comfort; solidity as well as shape; longevity as well as immediate functionality.
Those of us who share the Christian faith often capitalize Hope to signify “something more”: an eternal hope. In a life of faith, we have recognized the need to hope in something more than circumstances or humanity. Many of us may also have learned-perhaps the hard way- that nailing our colours to the mast of human hope is never enough and that there is a reality greater and more permanent than us, where true Hope really can be found.
Rowan Williams calls this hope “ a settled confidence” and Thomas Aquinas long before him ‘orientation to a future good that is difficult but possible.’ Hope, he says, involves trust. Trust that is not based on how we feel or on what happens next, but on divine truth. There’s our solidity, our good upholstery: that our hope is built on the divine truth that we recognise as God.
For those of us old in the faith as well as years our memory (however faltering) helps. We can look back over our lives and recognise what has sustained us in hope before. Not because hope will always lead to the same place or the same results in the same way: often quite the opposite. But because God’s faithfulness –and the hope that results from it- is sure in every circumstance, even when we aren’t.
This kind of eternal hope, although we can rely upon it, isn’t something we can plan for. It’s an unknown. God is both what we know already and what we’ve yet to know. To have all the details in our care would be to shrink the landscape of that hope, dilute it’s wonder or undermine its promises. But recollections of our faith can aid our confidence in it. Memories, individual and community faith practices, open expectations and fresh perceptions of God all give hope a rootedness-especially in dark places. Part of the value of that memory stems from our understanding of the importance of narrative: of story. Our faith story, the faith stories of others and the story of God at work in the world. (We’d do well to read some in these uncertain times.)
Our world, however bewildering at times, has a source and destiny beyond anything that we can understand. It is imbued with mystery yet scattered with pin-pricks of light that is hope, often just out of sight and sometimes apparent at the most unexpected moments. We just need to look.
Hope, like the planting of my bulbs, is a trusting balancing act between loving action and sure faith and the embracing of a mystery that is-thank goodness- far beyond our comprehension. It is the deep love of God in Christ that takes the fear out of the mystery and enables us to hope in it.
So, I pray…
“ that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:17-19 (NRSV)
This post is part of an advent series. Twenty-Four diverse voices have been invited to share some thoughts on one of four themes (Hope, Peace, Joy and Love) each day during the season of Advent. Each contributor has been given just one theme and no further parameters – they may write as much or as little in the style of their own choosing.
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